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Signature Cushion Shrinks In Bloomington Election Referendum Case

I Voted stickers on a roll
Carleigh Gray
Republicans and Libertarians collected 1,345 signatures, above the 1,000 minimum needed to get the question on the ballot.

Opponents of a referendum asking to dissolve the Bloomington Election Commission made it nearly halfway to their goal Monday as they argued that hundreds of signatures collected to put it on November’s ballot were invalid.

Republicans and Libertarians collected 1,345 signatures, above the 1,000 minimum needed to get the question on the ballot. Bloomington Election Commissioner Denise Williams claims as many as 558 are invalid for various reasons, enough to keep it off the ballot.

"Election law can be very persnickety."

During a nearly two-hour hearing Monday in McLean County court, local GOP officials Connie Beard and Norma Brown conceded around 147 signatures were invalid. That leaves them only a 198-signature cushion as Judge Paul Lawrence decides this week on the rest of Williams’ objections. A decision is needed by Friday.

Williams filed her objections as a Bloomington voter, not in her capacity as one of a three Bloomington election commissioners. She opposes dissolving the BEC and is being supported by the McLean County Democrats.

Her objections attack the original 1,345 signatures on 10 fronts. Williams and her attorney, Josh Rohrscheib, argued that Lawrence should throw out 131 signatures because those people were not registered to vote in Bloomington, another 103 because the names were printed and not signed, and 126 more because the page headings were inconsistently marked—allegedly by the petition circulators.

“Election law can be very persnickety,” Rohrscheib said, referring to the page of signatures he wanted invalidated because they were filed on different sized paper than what was required. “Strict compliance with state statute is required.”

Brown and Beard defended their signatures during Monday’s hearing, apparently without the aid of an attorney.

They argued, for example, that the law is fuzzy on whether someone has to literally sign their name in cursive for it to count as a signature. They also said a person’s petition signature may not necessarily match the signature on file with the BEC—the basis for Williams’ dispute of another 66 names.

They mostly focused on Williams herself, a Democrat who they claim has a conflict of interest in her role as a Bloomington election commissioner. Williams did not note her BEC role in her original objection filing.

“Her personal interest in the outcome of this case should have been clearly labeled,” said Brown, the vice chair of the McLean County Republican Party.

Williams countered that the information she gathered to attack the signatures was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and not through any special access she may have through the BEC.

Lawrence said he’ll rule in the next few days so that election officials would have enough time to get the question on the ballot.

Dissolving the BEC would be a step toward fixing an odd quirk of McLean County election law. The nonpartisan BEC administers elections in the City of Bloomington. But the partisan county clerk’s office administers elections in Normal and elsewhere in the county. Critics say the twin election authorities is inefficient and potentially confusing.

Democrats, including Williams, say they don’t want to dissolve the BEC without first taking steps toward the creation of a countywide election commission to replace it. Democrats say they’re opposed to handing over election duties to the elected county clerk—currently Republican Kathy Michael.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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